Sick, Twisted Practical Jokes Are Part of the Creative Culture

Taking the Fun out of Advertising Is the Worst Prank of All

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Derek Walker
Derek Walker
6:30 a.m. Monday morning
At an agency that will remain unnamed. I'm under the desk of my cubicle on the phone giggling like a schoolgirl!

"I can't believe we're doing this, this is so wrong!" I break out in laughter, evil laughter.

Across the creative department, muffled laughter breaks out from various cubes as my fellow accomplices start to laugh at what we have set into motion.

"Shhh! He should be here in a little bit. This is going to be so funny," my art director barks before busting out in uncontrollable laughter.

The next five minutes we spend under our desks, laughing and trying to regain a measure of composure before our plan springs into action.

A little back-story: We're under our desk waiting for a fellow art director to return from his vacation, his first in over four years. Why would anyone wait four years before taking a vacation? Because he believed he was cursed. "Bert," as we'll call him, had worked in advertising for a while for several agencies, and the last three times he had gone on vacation he returned to either be laid-off, fired or terminated immediately after his vacation.

So, knowing this, and after watching the hand wringing by Bert leading up to going on vacation, what would any creative department do? We took our shot.

We decided to pull off one of the greatest -- although meanest -- pranks ever pulled off. We "fired" Bert.

While he was on vacation, with the permission of the CD and the CEO (both of whom would later claim "plausible deniability" -- chickens) we very carefully and neatly boxed up all of Bert's possessions in those boxes every agency uses when an employee is let go, and stacked the boxes in a very nice pile in the center of his cube.

And affixed to the top of last box was a yellow post-it note that read: "Bert, come see me," with the CD's signature. It took the entire week for me -- I mean "someone" -- to get his signature down. It was a pretty good forgery if I say so myself.

So, with everything in place all that was left for us to do was wait -- sit in the darkness and wait for our plan to spring into action. We had theories about how he would react but nothing could prepare us for what happened.

6:50 a.m.
Bert is always the first one in the office. That's why we're there under our desks so early. The sounds of Bert whistling -- yes whistling -- cuts through the silence of the dark office. He's whistling! We could track him by the whistling, he's passed the production area, then the pool table. He should be reaching his cubicle any second.

The whistling stops.

"What the ... ?!?! No, no, no!!" Bert says as he rushes from his cube to our creative director's empty office. (Our CD said he had an appointment and would be in late this morning. Yeah, right.) Bert plops down in the chair in front of the CD's desk. He sits there for what seems like forever before storming back to his cube, mumbling all the way that he knew he shouldn't have gone on vacation.

He's in his cubicle pounding on the telephone. "I told you we shouldn't go on vacation! But no, you said I was being foolish," he says to his wife. (Oh, by the way, we had gotten his wife's permission weeks in advance to pull this prank.)

For the next few minutes, Bert goes back and forth between his cubicle and the CD's office, mumbling and cursing. We can't take it anymore. The office bursts out in laughter.

Bert stops in mid-stride, stunned as his mind races to figure out what is going on. As he watches us emerge from hiding, it hits him. He gets it instantly. His face relaxes and then hardens, "I'm going to get each and every one of you back!"

Thus began the great prank wars.

For over a year, we waged never-ending war on each other. And he did get each and everyone of us.

The art director who thought he should be running the agency came in to find we had switched his office with the CEO's office, down to routing his number to his new office. The look on his face when he walked into his "former" cubicle to see the CEO working away. He sat in the CEO's office all day.

The ACD who, after his wife left him, would often swear he was getting a mail-order bride? We created a profile for him with picture and everything. Of course, we had to use the agency address to see the response. Oh, the look our receptionist gave him when she handed him a stack of letters from overseas! Then when the emails started to come!

We won't talk about what they did to me. Let's just say I don't leave my car keys sitting around anymore.

The point of this blog is to ask, "When did we beat the fun out of this industry? When did we become so business-like that we forgot how to laugh and enjoy ourselves?"

Jerry Della Femina said it best, "I believe advertising is the most fun you can have with your clothes on."

How much fun are you having? When was the last time your halls echoed with laughter? When was the last time you used your powers for fun?

If you have to think about it, it has been too long.

Derek Walker is the janitor, secretary and mailroom person for his tiny agency, brown and browner advertising based in Columbia, S.C.
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